Monday, May 2, 2016

JordanCon8 Recap Post

My apologies. I’ve been staring at a blank page for far too long. Post Con Depression has its foothold, and it’s the reason I’ve been so quiet (sorry! heh).

2016 marked the sixth consecutive year I’ve traveled from Toronto to Atlanta for JordanCon, the little literary convention with the big heart.

This year’s JCon was hosted by my friend, Linda Taglieri, a renowned Wheel of Time scholar from The Thirteenth Depository, and it had the added honour of being the site of this year’s DeepSouthCon (those guys, they’ve been around the block a time or two, and let me tell you: they know how to have fun!). The Author Guest of Honour was Catharine Asaro, the Artist Guest of Honour was John Picacio, and the shenanigans and revelry were bigger, better, and more shenanigan-y than ever.

No, seriously. We’re going to have to come up with some crazy shit to top this year’s tom foolery--that’s the real reason why JCon is only once a year: it takes us a whole year to come up with an idea that tops the previous year.

(Wait, er, I mean… I’m not up to anything. Except maybe liver failure.)

The highlights from JordanCon8 were many, thus I present a sampling, featured in no particular order and likely even less sense:

  • Thursday evening Directors’ Dinner: before the crazy of con truly begins the Directors and guests enjoy a meal together, and as a newly appointed assistant director, this was the first year I attended. However, there had to be at least one tradition to kick off the weekend, and apparently it was the one where I say something mortifyingly inappropriate in front of respectable author Brandon Sanderson. I blame the wine. And Paul Bielaczyc. (Damn you both for making me memorable! *sigh*) 

  • Performing in the Opening Ceremonies as Sith Elaida: yes, my hack acting skills were on display in full getup as a Wheel of Time/Star Wars mashup character Sith Elaida (Elaida Jedai? Either way--she’s too obtuse to realize she’s channeling the Dark Side, haha!). So much fun, and myself, along with April Moore as Jedi Cadsuane, and Brit Lewis as Jedi Moiraine, and Linda Taglieri as toastmaster absolutely rocked those Opening Ceremonies! (I wish I had pics, or even better, video!)

  • The JordanCon Art Show, in all its glory! It’s no secret that I’m biased: having worked quietly as April Moore’s second for years now, I now carry the title of Assistant Director for the Art Show. 2016 marked the fifth annual JordanCon Art Show, and it was our most successful yet. Our talented artists and dedicated team of volunteers outdid themselves again. Our exhibits were dazzling, our sales were up by about 30%, and no one lost their mind (or voice!).

  • The Friday evening meal tradition of the Tor.com Rereaders’ Dinner: in the past we’ve all negotiated our way to a restuarant, but this year Ross Newberry went to the trouble of having our annual meal catered at the hotel instead of on the road. (It was excellent, and methinks we need to continue it in the future.) And we had Rereaders join us who had never hit up JordanCon before! (ALICE!) Big hugs all around!

  • Sharing JordanCon yet again with my cousin Mandy: as much as it saddened me to sit out of the costume contest this year (a girl only has so much disposable time), I had the privilege to watch her place 2nd in the costume contest (Canadians represent!). And I helped with her Myrddraal makeup: this means I’ve placed 5 years in a row now, right? Right?

    Clockwise top left: silliness in the elevator; with Jason Denzel; the Myrddraal places second; the Hive Mind lives (April Moore and Lannis).
  • The Writer’s Workshop, and receiving praise from Catharine Asaro on my writing. “An economy of words,” eh? I’m tickled! 

  • Hanging out with my BFF, Jason Denzel, in person instead of online for a change, and watching his eyes roll every single time I declared pretentiously that Pomella, the protagonist of his novel, Mystic, was based on me (of COURSE she wasn’t). He later set me up in front of Harriet McDougal (Robert Jordan’s widow) and Brandon Sanderson (big wig author). Knowing I would preen on cue and state the dreaded line, “Pomella was based on me,” Jason turned my teasing around with a snort and the burn, “Only the bratty parts!” Oh, Jason! Payback’s a bitch, sir! Just wait! Haha! oxo

  • Seeing old friends, naturally, but also seeing newbies enjoy their first JCon (Kalen! Ebony! Drew! Alice! And many more!) Honestly, I love expanding our Con family, and watching you enjoy JordanCon for the first time gives me all kinds of warm fuzzies! (Come back next year: the second time around is even better, trust!)

    Costumes from the contest and more!


  • Speed Friending: after years of singing its praises and wanting to attend yet having conflicts, I finally made it to the Speed Friending panel! It was far louder than I’d anticipated but oh so much fun! I highly recommend it, and plan on hitting it up again next year!

  • Downing maple flavoured Crown Royal Rye shots with Jason Denzel and Richard Fife at the bar, and--over the weekend--teaching not one but two bartenders how to make lovely layered B52 shooters. Ah, yes, boys, stick with me, and I’ll show you all the fun drinks! Ha!
     
  • Catching tWoTcast live, playing “Who Said tWhat?” and laughing so hard I cried as they read smutty passages from books by Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, and (previous JordanCon Author Guest of Honour) Patrick Rothfuss; while at the same time I was helping Chip Moore (JordanCon’s official bartender) serve the audience with his portable bar (dude means business!).

  • Getting Maria Simons (of Team Jordan) and Jennifer Liang (the JordanCon Con Chair) to throw panties at our friend Ross during the costume contest--his was a Wheel of Time mashup costume: a gleeman/Elvis named Al’vis, hence someone needed to make sure panties were thrown his way. (12-year-old me is simultaneously thrilled that I have this sort of rapport with these ladies, and absolutely mortified that I insist on sullying our reputation, haha)

  •  Hanging out with our fantastic artists at the Art Show, including the talented likes of Edsel Arnold, Charles Urbach, and Amy Romanczuk. And then purchasing a Melissa Gay original--oh yes, Crystal Run is mine! Muahahaha! 

    Crystal Run by Melissa Gay; 8 x 10, acrylic on canvas.
  • Being accused of being the head of the Black Ajah--a flattering accusation (oh, that I might be so devious as to devise what is clearly a very very good trick!)--and yet completely baffled by what is going on and wondering why am I not cool enough to get a Black Ajah ribbon?! (Seriously, peeps--if you know the lowdown on this one, drop me a line, I'm intent on unraveling this puzzle. info[at]lannis.ca).

  • And the cream of the shenanigan crop: the Leigh Butler masks. Leigh is a past Toastmaster and the head of the Tor.com Wheel of Time Reread (and all around amazing chick), and was unable to attend this year’s JordanCon. Well, that wouldn’t do… so you know we Rereaders had to fill the hole in our hearts the best we knew how--by making not one, but, uh, maybe a dozen Leigh-on-a-stick masks so we could enjoy her as if she were with us. And of course such a stunt isn’t complete unless we unleashed it far and wide throughout the con, getting pics with everyone we could think of--and then I obnoxiously went onto Facebook as the pics were cropping up and pretended Leigh was avoiding me all weekend (because alcohol makes everything more believable). We love you, Leigh! Oxo 


    Fun with Leigh-on-a-Stick!
  • The Team Jordan signing: where thanks to volunteering I was able to jump the (rather long) line, and had Harriet sign my copy of The Wheel of Time Companion, “To Lannis, a scholar and a Trolloc,” and then had Alan Romanczuk tease me--because the tradition of embarrassing shit happening in front of Harriet clearly must continue. Then he asked me how I was going to top JordanCon 2016's shenanigans next year and I made it clear his wifey would be helping me--haha! Poor, Alan!

  • And so many more fun times: the costumes! The dance party! Karaoke! The gaming hall! Two proposals! Silliness in the elevator! Chatting with new people in the ConSuite! MORE!

    Every year I say that JordanCon is like a family reunion, but that’s because it bears repeating: this con is my tribe, and I’m oh so honoured to be a part of it and watch it grow--and grow it has! This year was record-breaking for attendance at 701 people attending the convention, and it really is the little convention with the big heart.

    #IsItAprilYet?









Saturday, November 21, 2015

MYSTIC by Jason Denzel - Book Review

Rating: 4/5 -  A satisfying read that’s worth every word.

Title: Mystic

Author: Jason Denzel

Format: hardcover

Published: 2015

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Publisher: Tor

Landed in my hands:
purchased myself


Summary (from dust jacket flap):

I called to the Myst and it send us you.

For hundreds of years, highborn nobles have competed for the chance to learn of the Myst. Powerful, revered, and often reclusive, Mystics have the unique ability to summon and manipulate the Myst: the underlying energy that lives at the heart of the universe. Once in a very great while, they take an apprentice, always from the most privileged sects of society.

Such has always been the tradition—until a new High Mystic takes her seat and chooses Pomella AnDone, a restless, lowborn teenager, as a candidate.

Commoners have never been welcomed among the select few given the opportunity to rise beyond even the highest nobility. So when Pomella chooses to accept the summons and journey to the secluded forest dwelling of Kelt Apar, she knows that she will have more to contend with than the competition for the apprenticeship.

Breaking both law and tradition, Pomella undergoes three trials against the other candidates to prove her worthiness. As the trials unfold, Pomella must navigate a deadly world of intolerance and betrayal, unaware that ruthless conspirators intend to make her suffer for having the audacity to seek to unravel the secrets of the Myst.


Review:

I wasn’t going to write this review.

Not because Mystic isn’t a good read, but because I find myself in a peculiar position with this title, one that’s never happened to me before.

You see, I know Jason Denzel. And not just a little bit—I count him a close friend.

Knowing I was carrying a bias, and also conscious of the fact that I am genuinely excited and proud of him for accomplishing publication, I began reading Mystic with trepidation.

So I did what I do with any book when I’m afraid I’ve lost my objective viewpoint: I took notes. Copious notes. Kept stickies inside the front cover, and I marked every time my inner editor wanted to rewrite a sentence for him, and every time my brain wandered away with a thought—be it praising or criticism.

And you know what? Dude did good.

Mystic has a quick hook, and is plainspoken with a clear, definitive voice. It has the classic tropes expected of the fantasy genre and bildungsroman literature, but doesn’t feel recycled. The worldbuilding feels authentic, not forced. At times I thought some of the names were clumsy, but overall they worked, and the gleanings of culture—of Oakspring and beyond—were well done. I particularly liked the idea behind the Common Cord—where family-specific knots are tied on a cord in a show of community solidarity.

(Though I’ll admit every time the word “culk” is tossed out as a curse word my brain gravitated to a different four letter curse word... probably because I have issues, heh.)

It’s a quick little YA read that was a refreshing change of pace. It’s comfortable in itself, and I find that’s important—especially in a first novel.

But despite all this, and despite my note-taking (begun as a way to give Denzel feedback, more than anything), I still wasn’t going to write this review, and I wasn’t going to post it on my teeny tiny wee platform on my corner of the Interwebs. I didn’t even want to admit to him I was reading his book (and I almost kept that secret).

But then, Mystic’s ending surprised me. Twice.

Here I thought based on tropes I knew where it was going and exactly how it was going to end, and—whoop!—I was wrong. And the ending that’s there is built into the novel, it’s not some blindsiding to the reader, crashing in from left field unnoticed. No, it’s carefully laid in, yet subtle enough that it’s unexpected.

And that is why I’m writing this review. I’m a reader who tries to predict—it’s a symptom of the deconstruction that never stops happening in my overactive brain—so any time an author can flip the script on me and it works, well, I’m pleasantly surprised, and a satisfied reader.

So this is the review I wasn’t going to write, yet am proud to be able to put my—yes, biased, but carefully vetted—opinion out there.

Mystic is light, quick, and well done, and I know my kids will enjoy it. I’m proud to have it on my shelf, Jason, thank you.

Dude, you did good.

Friday, October 16, 2015

BUDGET BYTES by Beth Moncel - Book Review

5/5 - So delicious that I read until my eyes went blurry!

Title: Budget Bytes

Author: Beth Moncel

Format: paperback

Published: 2014

Genre: cookbook

Publisher: Avery (Penguin Group)

Landed in my hands: purchased myself

Summary (from publication cover blurb):

A few years ago, Beth Moncel found herself, like many twenty-somethings, barely making ends meet. Living in a tiny, run-down apartment, being eaten alive by student loans, and sick of having to choose between buying toilet paper and fill her car's gas tank, Beth decided to cut down on the only expenditure she could: food. The trick was figuring out how to do so without resorting to peanut butter sandwiches at every meal. Armed with a degree in nutritional science and determined to eat healthily and well while cutting costs, Beth tackled the dilemma head-on.

By tracking her costs with obsessive precision, Beth learned which ingredients helped stretch her funds and which burned through them fastest. Eager to share her tips and recipes, she launched her blog, Budget Bytes. The blog soon attracted millions of readers clamoring for more.

Beth's eagerly awaited cookbook proves that cutting back on cost does not mean sacrificing taste. Budget Bytes delivers:

- More than 100 easy-to-follow, healthy, and affordable recipes for dependably delicious meals, like Coconut Chicken Curry; Mango, Jalapeño, & Quinoa Salad; Chorizo-Sweet Potato Enchiladas, and Teriyaki Salmon with Sriracha Mayo.

- Expert principles for cutting costs in the kitchen—including how to combine inexpensive ingredients with expensive ones to ensure that you can still have that pricey steak you're craving.

- Information to help you get acquainted with your kitchen, stock your larder, and get maximum use out of your freezer.

Many people assume that eating on a budget means compromising your standards; Beth proves that isn't the case. Whether you're urban or rural, vegan or paleo, Budget Bytes is guaranteed to delight both your palate and your pocketbook.


Review:

I can't remember precisely how I stumbled upon Beth Moncel's recipe blog Budget Bytes but it's a good bet Pinterest had something to do with it. Her recipe for Spinach Lasagna Roll Ups was one of the first recipes I tried online that became an instant family favourite, which prompted me to peruse her website and try other highly popular recipes. (I've boldly served her Italian Wonderpot—paired with baked skinless chicken breasts—to guests on a trial run of the recipe, to receive rave reviews).

Imagine my surprise when one day I (finally) noticed she's got a recipe book advertised in her sidebar. I poked around online reading up on it (are the recipes the same as her blog? does the book have more tips?), and the minute a little bird told me that she's got her best recipes saved for the book, I took the plunge and ordered a copy.

It's now dog-eared and full of stickies.

Over the summer I've served our family several of her recipes, and I have yet to find one that isn't a hit. We have specifically tried her Easy Meat Sauce (for pasta); Farmer Joes (a healthier Sloppy Joes knock off); Lemon-Garlic Shrimp Pasta; Savory Coconut Rice; Monkey Bread; Roasted Broccoli with Crispy Garlic; One-Skillet Lasagna; Firecracker Cauliflower; Five-Spice Chops; Chili-Cheese Beef 'n' Mac (think Hamburger Helper from scratch); Triple-Herb Mashed Potatoes; Peach Bubble Cake; and Indian Skillet Potatoes.

Granted, that's only thirteen recipes, but I'm not losing steam—I've another 14 marked to try once the weather turns, or during Mr Lannis' holidays (read: accepted time for truly experimental menus). Fact is, I can already tell from reading Moncel's write ups that these recipes are going to be hits.

Now while I've burnt my share of toast over the years, I'm not a beginner in the kitchen, but neither am I an expert. But I can tell you what I think Moncel is doing right, and why you should buy this book—or at the very least check out recipes on her blog:

- Budget Bytes is not intimidating. It's written for beginners, and the recipes are simple and classic. There's no need to go to cooking school to understand the concepts therein.

- Moncel breaks it all down: the costs; the benefits of meal planning; how to stock your kitchen and pantry; how to properly freeze food to cut back on waste; sample menus; conversion tables; and an appendix listing over 70 vegetarian and vegan recipes and where to find them in her book.

- There are Chef's Tips to help you become a more skilled participant in the kitchen, as well as Budget Bytes, which highlight cost-saving ideas.

- Each recipe has a code that correlates to how expensive the cumulative ingredients are, and how well the recipe freezes for leftovers—handy info if you're unsure of the number of mouths you're feeding on a given day, or like to prep freezer meals in advance.

- Its recipes are forgiving: we used leftover sausage instead of fresh for the meat sauce and guess what: nobody died. In fact, it was delicious. And I fully plan on defying instructions and using the slow-cooker instead of the stove top to make that Better-Than-Mom's Chili, because: hello, lazy! I'm fairly certain we'll survive that, too.

- Moncel's personality shines. She's written a short introduction to each recipe, and she's down to Earth and endearing.

- Great photographs. Never underestimate the power of food porn. Seriously.


The reason I am writing this review after only having tried thirteen recipes (fifteen if you count the two from her website) is that I have struggled to put this cookbook back in the cupboard since it was purchased. I keep flipping through, drooling, marking up, and adding stickies, and I know this book has been an investment I won't regret. I've already learned a thing or three.

What's the rule? If you get two good recipes out of a cookbook it's a keeper? So far Budget Bytes had proven that at least four times over and stands to do so another five times if it keeps to the current record. If you're still unconvinced, check out her blog, but remember: the book is even better!